Public sector pension funds invested in tobacco companies

BC Premier Gordon Campbell has a record of friendliness to the tobacco industry that dates back to his time as Mayor of Vancouver. An article in the Vancouver Sun by Gordon Keast reveals that the British Columbia Investment Management Corp., a Crown corporation, has invested government assets in Phillip Morris, Imperial Tobacco, Reynolds American, Rothman's, and Japan Tobacco. Here's the article: Dancing with the devil.

Health Canada, Stephen Harper, and protection of consumers

A letter to Health Canada:

I've been following the news very closely lately... and was absolutely delighted when I read an April 9 Vancouver Sun article entitled, "LEGISLATION PROTECTS CONSUMERS", in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a warning to companies "that care more about their profits than their customers." He said such companies will face "severe" punishment... and so they should!

One week later, I heard about the big concern over bishpenol A in plastics... and, within a matter of days, such plastics were being recalled and hauled off of store shelves... by the truckload!

My question has to do with tobacco and, more specifically, the predatory and rogue -- if not criminal -- tobacco industry.

Tobacco -- WHEN USED EXACTLY AS INTENDED BY THE MANUFACTURER -- kills 45,000 Canadians, each and every year. Despite "Reduced Ignition Propensity" (which makes such an appropriate acronym in the context of tobacco/smoking) laws, cigarette-ignited fires continue to be the leading cause of fire fatalities in this country! And tobacco-related litter (cigarette butts, spent matches and lighters, cigarette packages, inserts, cellophane wrappers, empty chewing tobacco cans, etc.) continues to be the leading form of litter, by far!

I recently sent the following letter to the editor of the Globe & Mail newspaper:

While I fully support the federal government's "better safe than sorry" stand on bisphenol A in plastics (April 19, front page), I have to wonder, especially in light of Stephen Harper's recent announcement about new legislation to protect consumers from companies "who care more about the almighty dollar than the safety of their customers": When will all tobacco products be taken off the shelves?

I look forward to your earliest possible response.

Errol E. Povah
President, Airspace Action on Smoking and Health

An opportunity for investigative reporters

This is, to start with, a "good news" story. A court in Quebec ruled in favour of Olesia Koretski, a landlord who had a problem with a smoking tenant.

The case was actually pretty cut and dried. The words "no smokers" were clearly visible on a form filled out by the tenant as part of the lease application, but the tenant proceeded to smoke pretty much non-stop after moving in on August 1, 2006.

You can read a story about this by Jan Ravensbergen in the Montreal Gazette here: Final bell sounds in smoking battle. This article, however, leaves an important issue unresolved: Who paid for the legal costs of the tenant, Sandra Fowler?

The article mentioned and its tobacco-industry-appointed President, Arminda Mota. It also mentioned that was funded with $2.5 million from the tobacco industry (a lot of money for a web site), but didn't mention that the tobacco industry is the sole source of funding for

Most important, neither Mota, Fowler, or anyone in the tobacco industry was willing to confirm or deny whether the tobacco industry paid Ms. Fowler's legal expenses.

The public, especially members of the public who are landlords, need to know this. If landlords run the risk of going up against the tobacco industry every time they rent an apartment to someone, it becomes "the cost of doing business". And asthmatic and pregnant women such as Ms. Koretski have the right to know that the tobacco industry regards them as targets.

So, if you're an investigative reporter, make some phone calls. You might have better luck with getting answers than Jan Ravensbergen did.

We knew this already

In an article by Anne Sutherland in the March 20, 2008 Montreal Gazette, Florent Gravel, president of the Association des detaillants en alimentation du Quebec, said that because of new regulations restricting the display of tobacco products in retail outlets (similar restrictions go into effect in BC at the end of March), retailers will lose the product-placement fees they receive from the tobacco companies for preferential display of their wares. According to Gravel, this ranges from $3,000 to $7,000 per year depending on the size of the store and the size of the display.

You read this correctly: until now, the tobacco industry has been paying bribes to retailers.

Canadian government announces its BUTTS FOR BABIES program

Like all good "snake-in-the-grass" tobacco executives, the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council seems to have gone into (hopefully permanent) hiding; their last press release was in August, 2007.

The last known mouthpiece for the rogue industry front group was vice-president Dave Laundy who, virtually every time he opened his mouth, described governments (provincial and federal) as "the tobacco industry's senior partner." That remark is based on the fact that most of the price of a package of cigarettes is taxes... the clear implication being that governments are making more money from the sale of tobacco than the industry itself. However, Laundy very conveniently overlooked one minor detail: Those same governments -- or, more specifically, you, I and every other taxpayer -- are stuck with the horrendous health-care costs directly attributable to smoking... costs which far outweigh the above-mentioned tax revenues.

Read more: Canadian government announces its BUTTS FOR BABIES program

Children can import cigarettes into Canada

"It is not the government of Canada's policy to allow children to import tobacco products into Canada." - John Brent, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day

Are you sure, John?

Open letter to Minister of Health George Abbott

Dear Mr. Abbott:

In November of 2007, NDP MLA Leonard Krog tabled a private members' bill calling for a ban on smoking in vehicles carrying children. Your response at that time was, "British Columbians aren't ready for such a ban."

Three short months later, via the recent Throne Speech, we learned that the B.C. Liberals now support such a ban, although we're still patiently waiting to hear critical details...i.e., the maximum age of a 'child' (16? 18? 19?), the implementation date, penalties for violations, etc. By the way, in terms of enforcement, this ban could easily be enforced in conjunction with existing police duties/policies (routine traffic stops, etc.)... especially seatbelt checks.

Read more: Open letter to Minister of Health George Abbott

Airspace Marks First Anniversary of Call for Total Eradication of Tobacco Industry

On February 12, 2007, I issued a call for the total eradication of the tobacco industry from the face of the planet.

In addition to being the top story on the homepage of the Airspace website, press releases were sent out, worldwide. I also repeated the call on several subsequent radio talk shows...and in [published] letters to the editor, etc.

The response: Literally dozens of good, positive and supportive ZERO negative comments.

In addition, I issued a challenge, to anyone, to debate any and all tobacco control issues, up to and including the total eradication of the tobacco industry. Again, ZERO response!

One would think that our detractors -- including the tobacco industry itself, as well as its many well-paid puppets -- would be chomping at the bit to debate the issue, but not a peep out of any of them! So I decided to issue a few personal challenges. The list of detractors I contacted, directly, is long and...well, not terribly distinguished (in fact, extinguished is much more appropriate). Just a few of the more high-profile tobacco whores I contacted and challenged to debate:

- Nancy Daigneault, former president of, Canada's biggest "smokers' rights" group, established and funded -- to the tune of at least $2.5 million (that we know about) -- by Imperial Tobacco. Despite initially claiming that she was ready, willing and able to debate the issue with anyone, anywhere and any time, over a period of several months, her office claimed she was "too busy", then she had a child, then she was just "too busy"...again...and again...and again!;

Read more: Airspace Marks First Anniversary of Call for Total Eradication of Tobacco Industry

Squamish councillors ponder smoking ban

Article by Kelly Sinoski in the Vancouver Sun: Squamish councillors ponder smoking ban.

Excerpt: "The no-smoking bandwagon is rolling toward Squamish, with civic staff told to investigate the feasibility of prohibiting smokers from lighting up at home if children are present.

"The consideration is part of an overall no-smoking motion -- suggested by Coun. Raj Kahlon last December -- that also includes banning smokers from lighting up in vehicles where children are present and in public places such as bus shelters."

Vancouver woman demands smoke-free housing

Story by Gerry Bellett in the Vancouver Sun: Vancouver woman demands smoke-free housing.

Excerpt: "The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear the case of a woman who claims she has been the victim of discrimination because housing authorities wouldn't provide her with smoke-free public housing.

"Sheila Abraham is on a disability pension for a number of conditions and has been diagnosed with hyper-reactive airway disease, which is caused and exacerbated by second-hand smoke, according to a complaint filed with the tribunal."

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